Archive for May, 2013

Fasting: A Neglected Discipline

May 16, 2013

Last night in Bible study we covered the passage Luke 5:33-35.

Then they said to Him, “Why do the disciples of John fast often and make prayers, and likewise those of the Pharisees, but Yours eat and drink?”

34 And He said to them, “Can you make the friends of the bridegroom fast while the bridegroom is with them? 35 But the days will come when the bridegroom will be taken away from them; then they will fast in those days.”

We discussed the various types of fasts.

Total Fast: Nothing to eat or drink.  This is the most severe form of fasting, and should not be done for any great length of time.  Humans can live quite a while without food, but only about three days without liquid.  ( I wouldn’t suggest testing that theory out!)  Muslims routinely do a total fast from sunrise to sunset.   I think that is about as long a total fast as I would ever recommend.

Water Fast: Nothing to eat, only water to drink.  This is slightly less severe, and can be followed for many days.  Our bodies do have a fat reserve which can fuel the bodies needs for a period of time.  People may fast a meal, or a day, three days, seven days, or whatever amount you feel led to fast, up to forty days.  I do not recommend long water fasts unless you specifically feel led by the Spirit to do so.

Juice Fast:  Nothing to eat,  but you can drink juice, or milk.  This fast is slightly easier than the water fast because the juice will provide a supply of sugar to the bloodstream.  The metabolism will function to process the juice and so it is less uncomfortable than the water fast.  The juice fast is the form most commonly used by people doing fasts longer than three days.

Selected Fasts:  The selective fast means giving up something for a period of time.  There are many different forms of selective fasting.

    The Daniel Fast:  There are two forms of the Daniel Fast, the vegetable only, and the “no pleasant food”.   The vegetable only fast is basically a vegetarian, or vegan diet.  Either no meat, or no animal products.  It comes from Daniel 1:12.    The “no pleasant food” comes from Daniel 10:3.  It is not clear what Daniel was referring to specifically, so individuals are left to their own interpretation and application; such as no desserts, no soda, no coffee, or whatever is considered “pleasant” by the individual.

The Ezekiel Fast:  Ezekiel was commanded by God to eat a bread made from a certain mixture of grains.  It comes from Ezekiel 4:9 and there are recipes available for people who want to follow this form of fast. I have occasionally heard of it available in retail stores as well.

These are two common forms of selective fasts, but there are innumerable variations.  When people give something up for Lent, that is a form of selective fasting.  The thing that is given up may be a certain food, or drink; or it may be an activity or favorite pastime, such as giving up television, or facebook and so forth.

The selective fast can be followed for an indefinite period of time, although most people will determine a start, and end date for their fast.

As you can see by these various forms of fasting, there is something available for people of all levels of discipline.  It can be as simple as fasting a meal, to more lengthy durations.  A person should start off slow and learn how they respond to the practice of fasting.

The important thing to remember with fasting is that we are seeking to deny the flesh, and emphasize the spirit.  During a fast, we should spend an increased amount of time in prayer, Bible study, and reflection.

Why do I call fasting a neglected discipline?  I suspect that only a small percentage of Christians practice fasting with any regularity, and many may have never fasted ever.

It is not necessary to fast in order to be saved, but fasting is a Christian discipline that can promote both spiritual growth in the individual, and have an impact on the spiritual realm.

 

 

Mary: An Ordinary Mom?

May 13, 2013

This is the 23rd Mothers’ Day message that I have preached.  I am a little surprised to recognize that I have never used the most famous mother of all to preach a message on Mothers’ Day.  That is, until today.

I.   The News:  Luke 1:30-31

Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name Jesus.

Now, obviously Mary received this news from an angel, not from a doctor or pregnancy test.  Even more important, she was a virgin and so there was certainly no reason for her to suspect that she might be pregnant.  Nonetheless, I suspect that her reaction to the news, would be similar to women everywhere.  She was undoubtedly both frightened and excited.  She was likely feeling both joy, and concern.  These are ordinary responses to the very human news that one is with child.  Mary’s world, like any other mother, was about to change forever.  Mary’s circumstances were extraordinary, but her feelings were probably normal human feelings.

II.  Common Bonds:  Luke 1:39-45

Now Mary arose in those days and went into the hill country with haste, to a city of Judah, 40 and entered the house of Zacharias and greeted Elizabeth. 41 And it happened, when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, that the babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. 42 Then she spoke out with a loud voice and said, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! 43 But why is this granted to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 For indeed, as soon as the voice of your greeting sounded in my ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy. 45 Blessed is she who believed, for there will be a fulfillment of those things which were told her from the Lord.”

Obviously, I am a man and so have never experienced being pregnant, or being a mother, so all of my observations are subject to being corrupted by the male perspective, but I have consulted with experts (ordinary moms) and I have been told my thoughts are reasonably accurate.

Mary and Elizabeth were both pregnant under extraordinary circumstances.  Elizabeth was older, and had been barren.  Mary was to be the mother of Jesus, and Elizabeth was to be the mother of John the Baptist.  Still, there is a common experience here of pregnant women everywhere.  Pregnant women like to get together and compare notes.  They like to talk about the changes that are taking place in their bodies, their experiences, feelings, their hopes and dreams and so forth.  If they don’t have a friend that is pregnant, then a friend who has been there already works just as well, maybe even better.  Frankly, women like to talk with other women.  That is pretty ordinary.

The Birth:  Luke 2:6&7, 19

So it was, that while they were there, the days were completed for her to be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

I rather doubt that as Mary was envisioning the day of birth that she had thought that she would be in a strange town, giving birth in a barn.  For most women, the birth day does not go quite like they had expected.

But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart.

Mary’s experiences were unique and she remembered every detail.  Ordinary women also remember all the details of the birth of their children.  It is an ordinary event that is extraordinary in the sense that it is always remembered.  The day of birth is an ordinary thing, and yet very special day.

IV.  They Grow Up Fast:  Luke 2:40

And the Child grew and became strong in spirit, filled with wisdom; and the grace of God was upon Him.

Jesus grew up just like other children grow up.  Parents everywhere recognize that it seems that their children are infants one day, and young adults the next.  This is an ordinary experience.

V. Children Sometimes Give Us Fits:  Luke 2:41-46

His parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover. 42 And when He was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem according to the custom of the feast. 43 When they had finished the days, as they returned, the Boy Jesus lingered behind in Jerusalem. And Joseph and His motherdid not know it; 44 but supposing Him to have been in the company, they went a day’s journey, and sought Him among their relatives and acquaintances. 45 So when they did not find Him, they returned to Jerusalem, seeking Him. 46 Now so it was that after three days they found Him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, both listening to them and asking them questions.

At age twelve, Jesus may have already been accepted as a young adult in the Jewish community.  While His family was in Jerusalem, He went to the temple.  He probably didn’t think anything about it.  His parents, trusting Him as a young adult, assumed that He would be with the group.  Can you imagine their concern when they realized that He was not with them.  One day out, one day back, and the third day they find Him in the temple.  Can you imagine how worried Mary was about her twelve-year-old son?  It is a very ordinary thing for our children to give us a few fits as they grow up.  Even Jesus was apparently not except from the typical behavior.

VI.  Still Involved:  John 2:1-5

On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Now both Jesus and His disciples were invited to the wedding. And when they ran out of wine, the mother of Jesus said to Him, “They have no wine.”

Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does your concern have to do with Me? My hour has not yet come.”

His mother said to the servants, “Whatever He says to you, do it.

I just have to smile as I read this passage.  Mary believed in her child and knew what He was capable of doing.  She encouraged Him to act in a way that only mothers seem to know how to do.  It wasn’t yet His time, but He ended up helping out anyway.  Ordinary mothers believe in their children, and continue to offer guidance, even after they are grown.  Mary was no different.

VII.  A Broken Heart:  John 19:25

 Now there stood by the cross of Jesus His mother, and His mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.

Mary was with Jesus during His ministry and she was there at His death.  How awful that had to be.  Sometimes a mother’s heart is broken by the things that her child has to suffer.  This too, is a common experience in the history of mankind.

VIII.  New Hope:  Acts 1:14

These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers.

After Jesus death, resurrection, and ascension, Mary is with the disciples.  She has experienced the heights and depths of Jesus’ ministry on earth.  At this time she is expectant for what comes next.  For mothers who have suffered heartbreak, after heartbreak, there can be new hope.

Conclusion:  Obviously, Mary was a very special mother, but many of her experiences are ordinary experiences, common to mothers everywhere.  God can use ordinary mothers to do extraordinary things.  Actually, you don’t have to be a mother, God can use ordinary people, both men and women, to do extraordinary things.

 

 

 

An Active Role

May 6, 2013

These are the sermon notes from April 28.  Yes, I know, I am a week behind.

The message today is from a famous parable, the parable of the sower and the seed.

Mark 4:1-9

And again He began to teach by the sea. And a great multitude was gathered to Him, so that He got into a boat and sat in it on the sea; and the whole multitude was on the land facing the sea. Then He taught them many things by parables, and said to them in His teaching:

“Listen! Behold, a sower went out to sow. And it happened, as he sowed, that some seed fell by the wayside; and the birds of the air came and devoured it. Some fell on stony ground, where it did not have much earth; and immediately it sprang up because it had no depth of earth. But when the sun was up it was scorched, and because it had no root it withered away. And some seed fell among thorns; and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no crop. But other seed fell on good ground and yielded a crop that sprang up, increased and produced: some thirtyfold, some sixty, and some a hundred.”

And He said to them, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear!”

 

We are blessed that Jesus himself gives the basic interpretation of this parable.

I.  The Sower: v14

The sower sows the word.

The sower can be anyone.  We are all called to be witnesses of the gospel, to share the message of salvation.  We should look for whatever opportunity comes our way to share the good news of Jesus Christ.  The word is the message of salvation offered to all.  The message is scattered liberally, without regard to the soil type.

II.  The Wayside: v15

And these are the ones by the wayside where the word is sown. When they hear, Satan comes immediately and takes away the word that was sown in their hearts.

Some reject the word when they first hear it.  We should not be discouraged by this result.  Sometimes seed may lay dormant for a long time.  God is able to break up fallow ground.  He is able to soften hardened hearts.  Sometimes it takes a long time before a person will respond with faith, but it may still happen.

III.  The Stoney Ground: vv16-17

These likewise are the ones sown on stony ground who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with gladness; 17 and they have no root in themselves, and so endure only for a time. Afterward, when tribulation or persecution arises for the word’s sake, immediately they stumble.

We all know of people who were saved and served God for a while.  However, for some it is like a passing fad that they embrace for a while before turning to something else.  This is where we should all use this parable as a warning to our own Christian walk.  We are able to take an active part in our faith development.  Let us put down roots through consistent Bible study, prayer, worship, and fellowship with other believers.

IV.  Among Thorns:  vv18-19

Now these are the ones sown among thorns; they are the ones who hear the word, 19 and the cares of this world, the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things entering in choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful.

We need to be careful!  The blessings that God gives to us in this world can become a hindrance to our faith.  It is acceptable to enjoy the things that God has given to us, but they should never replace our love for God.  God is to be first in our lives, not just a part of our lives.  Again, we should use the lesson of this parable to take an active part in our faith development, and be careful to “Seek first the kingdom of God”.

IV.  Good Ground:  v20

But these are the ones sown on good ground, those who hear the word, accept it, and bear fruit: some thirtyfold, some sixty, and some a hundred.”

What does it mean to bear fruit?  The first response is to think of the fruit of the Spirit found in Galations 5: 22-23.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law.

If we are believers in Christ, our lives should be changed.  If the Spirit of Christ is within us, then that Spirit should be having an impact on our lives.  The fruit of the Spirit should be present, and increasing in any true believer’s life.

There is another aspect of bearing fruit.  In the natural world, fruit contains the seeds of new life.  It is the means of reproduction.  In the spiritual realm, we also, should be reproducing.  We should be sharing the word, planting the seed, if you will, of new believers.

Conclusion:  We can use the parable of the sower, not to resign ourselves to our lot in life, but to break up fallow ground, to send down roots, to weed out the distractions in our lives, and to produce fruit for the kingdom of God.

The Fulfillment of a Dream

May 2, 2013

Life has been busy.  Here are the sermon notes from April 21, 2013.

I.  The Fulfillment of a Vision

A.  Genesis 37:5-11 The Dreams (age 17)

 Now Joseph had a dream, and he told it to his brothers; and they hated him even more. So he said to them, “Please hear this dream which I have dreamed: There we were, binding sheaves in the field. Then behold, my sheaf arose and also stood upright; and indeed your sheaves stood all around and bowed down to my sheaf.”

And his brothers said to him, “Shall you indeed reign over us? Or shall you indeed have dominion over us?” So they hated him even more for his dreams and for his words.

Then he dreamed still another dream and told it to his brothers, and said, “Look, I have dreamed another dream. And this time, the sun, the moon, and the eleven stars bowed down to me.”

10 So he told it to his father and his brothers; and his father rebuked him and said to him, “What is this dream that you have dreamed? Shall your mother and I and your brothers indeed come to bow down to the earth before you?” 11 And his brothers envied him, but his father kept the matter in mind.

Joseph was the favorite son of Jacob.    His brothers were well aware of his position as the favorite, and it angered them.  These dreams of Joseph only gave them more reason to be angry.  They acted out their anger one day by selling Joseph into slavery and covered it up by showing their father his bloodied clothing.  Jacob assumed that Joseph had been killed by wild beasts.

As a slave in Egypt, Joseph rose in power to become the head slave in his master’s house.  He was falsely accused of sexually assaulting his master’s wife, and was thrown into jail.

In jail, he again rose to a place of power.  He was given authority over the other prisoners.  During his time in jail he interpreted the dreams of two fellow prisoners.  This led to him one day being called into the presence of pharaoh to interpret a dream.

B.  The Rise to Power:  (age 30) Genesis 41:39-43

Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Inasmuch as God has shown you all this, there is no one as discerning and wise as you. 40 You shall be over my house, and all my people shall be ruled according to your word; only in regard to the throne will I be greater than you.” 41 And Pharaoh said to Joseph, “See, I have set you over all the land of Egypt.”

42 Then Pharaoh took his signet ring off his hand and put it on Joseph’s hand; and he clothed him in garments of fine linen and put a gold chain around his neck. 43 And he had him ride in the second chariot which he had; and they cried out before him, “Bow the knee!” So he set him over all the land of Egypt.

Joseph went from being the favorite son, to being a slave, to being a prisoner, to being ruler over Egypt.  It is an amazing story of how God can work in surprising ways to accomplish His purpose in our lives.  It is commonly referred to a the theme of the suffering servant.

C.  The Dreams Come True:  (age 38) Genesis 42:6

Now Joseph was governor over the land; and it was he who sold to all the people of the land. And Joseph’s brothers came and bowed down before him with their faces to the earth.

Of course his brothers do not recognize Joseph, but Joseph certainly recognized his brothers.  The dream had finally come true, almost twenty years later.

II.  Character Development

A.  Do What is Right:  Genesis 39:7-9

And it came to pass after these things that his master’s wife cast longing eyes on Joseph, and she said, “Lie with me.”

But he refused and said to his master’s wife, “Look, my master does not know what is with me in the house, and he has committed all that he has to my hand. There is no one greater in this house than I, nor has he kept back anything from me but you, because you are his wife. How then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?”

God was working in Joseph’s heart during his time of hardship.  Joseph was learning the important lesson of doing the right thing rather than the easy thing.  Doing what was right in the sight of God, not necessarily right in the sight of man.

B.  Knowledge of God:  Genesis 40:8

And they said to him, “We each have had a dream, and there is no interpreter of it.”

So Joseph said to them, “Do not interpretations belong to God? Tell them to me, please.”

Joseph recognizes that God has the interpretation.  Joseph has developed enough of a relationship with God that he believed that he might be able to help.  That God, whom he served, would reveal the interpretation to him.

Joseph had come a long way from the spoiled brat that he had been, to the man of God that he had become.  God used the times of hardship to develop his character.

III.  The Blessing of God

A.  As a Slave:  Genesis 39:3

And his master saw that the Lord was with him and that the Lord made all he did to prosper in his hand.

B.  As a Prisoner:  Genesis 39:23

The keeper of the prison did not look into anything that was under Joseph’s authority,because the Lord was with him; and whatever he did, the Lord made it prosper.

God was with Joseph even during the difficult times.  Whatever the circumstances were, God blessed him.

We cannot all be Joseph.  We cannot all rise to become the ruler over a nation, or even over a company.  We can however all be blessed by God.  We can all develop our character to be the people God calls us to be.  We can all have visions that come true.  The most important thing is to develop our relationship with God so that we know God and do what is right.

God Himself, is our greatest blessing. Genesis 15: 1

After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, saying, “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your exceedingly great reward.”

If we have a good relationship with God, then truly our best dreams are fulfilled.